November 3 — William Cullen Bryant Born (1794)

To A Waterfowl

Whither, ‘midst falling dew,                                                                                     While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,                                                  Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue                                                      Thy solitary way?

Vainly the fowler’s eye                                                                                            Might mark thy distant flight, to do thee wrong,                                                          As, darkly seen against the crimson sky,                                                                 Thy figure floats along.

Seek’st thou the plashy brink                                                                                      Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,                                                                       Or where the rocking billows rise and sink                                                                 On the chaféd ocean side?

There is a Power, whose care                                                                                Teaches thy way along that pathless coast,—                                                         The desert and illimitable air                                                                                  Lone wandering, but not lost.

All day thy wings have fanned,                                                                                   At that far height, the cold thin atmosphere;                                                             Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,                                                          Though the dark night is near.

And soon that toil shall end,                                                                                    Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,                                                          And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,                                                     Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.

Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven                                                                         Hath swallowed up thy form, yet, on my heart                                                       Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,                                                        And shall not soon depart.

He, who, from zone to zone,                                                                                Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight,                                                    In the long way that I must trace alone,                                                                    Will lead my steps aright.

William Cullen Bryant, American poet, was born November 3, 1794 (died 1854).  Bryant is considered among the greatest romantic poets, and his poem, To A Waterfowl, is recognized as among the most beautiful of all poems, American or not.  He wrote the poem in December of 1815, as he walked the countryside in rural Massachusetts.

Romanticism as a literary form looked to nature for inspiration and beauty.  In nature, the artist found lessons that related daily existence and spirituality.  For Bryant, walking the seven-mile trek between his home and law office daily, the lone waterfowl seemed to represent his own solitude.  But, as the poem continues, Bryant recognizes that the animal’s journey is not random, but guided by an invisible force—the same force that will guide him on his life’s journey.